Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?

in our neighboring state of arkansas, the legislature is convening with an increased republican majority in its senate.  one of the signal accomplishments of the last legislative session was the adoption of the so-called "private option" that allowed medicaid expansion under the affordable care act.  through this compromise legislation, federal money paid for many more people to secure private health insurance as part of arkansas' medicaid program.  now many fear that this legislation will be repealed, leaving newly insured arkansans without insurance and throwing the state's budget into disarray.  (my own state of texas, like many other "red" states refused to consider allowing the federal government to insure the thousands of texans who are poor and uninsured.)

the prospect of depriving so many of the security that being insured brings seems heartless and short-sighted.  this attitude that it is somehow the fault of the poor that they are unable to provide even basic necessities for themselves and their families is largely an attitude that has developed among those who have never experienced poverty first-hand.  we continue to see income disparity in the the united states become more and more acute, as the wealthiest among us thrive while those at or near the bottom of the economic ladder continue to become poorer.

often we hear that the homeless are without shelter of their own by their own choosing.  while some of the homeless may choose such a life, and while some, perhaps many, of the homeless are at fault for being in such a state, the rest of us are not excused from helping them.  even those who are homeless because of drug or alcohol abuse deserve to eat and be protected from the elements.  it is not the place of the rest of society to judge them; it is our duty to care for them, regardless of the reasons for their homelessness.

as we consider the plight of the working poor, those who work at minimum wage jobs to try to provide for themselves and their families, no reasonable person could suggest that a minimum wage job could support even a single person, much less a family.  yet, there are those who now propose the abolition of the minimum wage, suggesting that such an action will allow business to grow and employ more people.  how can we continue to threaten those with the least power by withdrawing even this meager guarantee of a minimum salary?  instead, we should be insisting that all employers pay a living wage to their employees.

along the same lines, the same folks who suggest that health care shouldn't be a right of all americans, that the poor are poor because they are too lazy to earn a decent living, that the homeless are on the street because they've made poor life choices, insist that the long-term unemployed will not look for jobs as long as they are allowed to collect unemployment insurance.  such reasoning flies in the face of all evidence.  the vast majority of those who are unemployed want desperately to find work.  time and again thousands show up at job fairs and to apply for advertised jobs, knowing that only a few will be hired, and every economic report demonstrates that there just aren't enough jobs to go around.  yet those on the exreme right (and many who go along with them even though they know better) continue to suggest that unemployment compensation makes people lazy.

if the united states continues along the path we are following at the present, our economy will never improve, and a permanent caste system of the very wealthy controlling the lives of a uniformly poor majority will be the end result.  where is love and compassion in our current political discourse?  where are the political and business leaders who believe that it their duty to look first to the common good, putting aside personal gain in favor of what is best for society as a whole.

may we look back to that time when economic disparity was growing as it is now and remember what happened when greed caused our economy to collapse.  my prayer for each of us is that we will see our sameness, our connection to one another, our obligation to care for one another.  may our individual good and our common good be one and the same.  shalom.

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